yes, therapy helps!
Emotional capital, a critique of the theory of emotional intelligence

Emotional capital, a critique of the theory of emotional intelligence

June 24, 2021

In the second of the conferences that compose frozen Intimidades, Eva Illouz begins by making a comparison between Samuel Smiles, author of Self-help (1859), and Sigmund Freud.

While it is true that currently the postulates of these two authors tend to resemble to such an extent that psychology is confused with self-help, the basic principles that originate them are considerably different .

The differences between self-help and psychology

While Smiles considered that "moral force could overcome the position and social destiny of a person," Freud "maintained the pessimistic conviction (...) that the ability to help was conditioned by the social class to which he belonged".


So, for the father of psychoanalysis, "self-help and virtue" were not in themselves sufficient elements for a healthy psyche, because "only transference, resistance, work with dreams, free association - and not "volition" or "self-control" - could lead to a psychic and, ultimately, a social transformation ".

The fusion of psychology and self-help: the therapeutic narrative

To understand the approach of psychology to the popular culture of self-help we should attend to the social phenomena that began to be accentuated in the United States from the sixties: the discrediting of political ideologies, the expansion of consumerism and the so-called sexual revolution they contributed to increase a narrative of self-realization of the self.


Likewise, the therapeutic narrative managed to permeate the dominant cultural meanings through the capillarity offered by a series of social practices related to the management of emotions.

On the other hand, in the theoretical basis of the syncretism between psychology and self-help are the theses of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, for whom the search for self-realization, understood as "the motivation in all forms of life to fully develop their possibilities "was inherent to a healthy mind. This is how psychology became primarily a therapeutic psychology that, "by postulating an ideal of indefinite health and in constant expansion," he made self-realization the criterion by which to classify increasingly emotional states in healthy or pathological.

Suffering and individualism in the therapeutic narrative

In light of this, Illouz presents a series of examples of how the therapeutic narrative depends entirely on establishing and generalizing previously a diagnosis in terms of emotional dysfunction to subsequently assert the prescriptive capacity that is presupposed. Therefore, self-realization needs to give meaning to psychic complications in the individual's past ("what prevents happiness, success and intimacy").


Accordingly, the therapeutic narrative became a commodity with the performative capacity to transform the consumer into a patient ("Since, in order to be better -the main product that is promoted and sold in this new field-, you must first be sick"), mobilizing a series of professionals related to psychology, medicine, industry pharmaceutical, the publishing world and television.

And since "it consists precisely in giving meaning to common lives as an expression (hidden or open) of suffering", the interesting thing about The therapeutic narrative of self-help and self-realization is that it entails a methodological individualism , based on "the need to express and represent one's own suffering". The author's opinion is that the two demands of the therapeutic narrative, self-realization and suffering, were institutionalized in the culture, since they were in consonance with "one of the main models for the individualism that the State adopted and propagated" .

Emotional intelligence as capital

On the other hand, the field of mental and emotional health resulting from the therapeutic narrative is sustained by means of the competence it generates. Proof of this competence is the notion of "emotional intelligence", which, based on certain criteria ("self-awareness, control of emotions, personal motivation, empathy, management of relationships"), allows to consider, and stratify, the aptitude of people in the social and, especially, labor, while granting a status (cultural capital) and facilitates personal relationships (social capital) in order to obtain economic returns.

Similarly, the author reminds us that we must not underestimate the implications of emotional intelligence in the security of the self in the context of an intimacy that in the contemporaneity of late modernity is extremely fragile.

Bibliographic references:

  • Illouz, Eva. (2007). Frozen Intimacies. The emotions in capitalism. Katz Editores (p.93-159).

Keynote Lecture, Prof. Eva Illouz, What is Emotional Capital? (June 2021).


Similar Articles